Honey, will you decapitate the chicken for me?

Ok, so Cairo isn’t so nitty gritty that one has to catch dinner in the backyard, but food IS very fresh and often comes much more intact than how we usually get it in the US. Take the chicken I cooked this evening for example: the neck in its entirety comes still attached and chicken necks are much longer than I ever imagined.

Now maybe this doesn’t seem as gruesome as some other ways that meat is presented in Egypt but it’s still annoying when neither I nor my husband eat the neck. Attempting to hack it off this afternoon proved much too nauseating for me so it stayed attached, and you will find me in the future recruiting Mr. MM for decapitation duty.

Getting food so fresh is wonderful; the eggs we buy are laid the morning we buy them. No kidding. Some come with feathers still clinging to the shells and are laid by free-range chickens. Lettuce, here, has a season for growing and when it’s not the season, like now, it’s almost impossible to find it and definitely impossible to find good stuff.

There’s three ways to buy meat here: supermarket meat section, frozen-packaged, or butcher shop. I recommend the butcher shop, but only if you know it and trust it. If you don’t have the assistance of Egyptian family/friends who know a good butcher then the next best choice is the supermarket meat section, I don’t like to buy there only because it’s slightly less fresh but a lot more expensive. Butcher shops were an odd sight to me when I first came to Egypt because many of them are open-air (which means lots of flies) and don’t really employ refrigeration and I couldn’t get over the idea of non-refrigerated meat. I was also completely creeped out by the sight of whole hanging animals and cows’ heads on platters. Apparently there is something about displaying the head that proves the animal was butchered in a halal manner, but I don’t know what it is.

Some of you may be as disgusted as I was by the thought of buying meat that’s been hanging out in the Egyptian heat all day but the fact of it is that the animals are butchered that very morning, or possibly even a few hours before you buy it. It’s like the eggs we buy: laid that morning and not refrigerated but definitely good. Another thing you will find is that some butchers will have small herds of goats and sheep hanging out in front or in back for you to pick your dinner from. Now that would be called fresh meat. Mom, know how you order your steak so rare its still mooing? Definitely possible in Egypt. It IS very important that you know and trust the butcher though, and you will find that butchers in better parts of Cairo, like Maadi for example, are often enclosed and air-conditioned. Rule of thumb: if you don’t know the butcher, and it looks dodgy, don’t buy there.

I haven’t lived only in Maadi, I lived for a little while in one of the slummier parts of Cairo called Warraq. In Warraq, late at night, the sheep owners (herders? shepherds?) allow their flock to graze the trash that’s strewn around the neighborhoods. That trash is a particularity of Warraq, which does not benefit from a garbage collector it is so poor, so don’t take this as an example of all of Cairo. It’s not something you would see in Maadi or Heliopolis or 6th of October for example. When I commented to Mr. MM about the garbage-grazing sheep, wondering if one of them might in the future end up on our family’s table (you are what you eat and so on) he assured me that his family does not buy from the butchers who use those animals, but only go to a butcher they know and is good. That’s just one, disgusting I know, example of why when in Egypt you should only buy from a butcher you know or has been recommended to you.

And as for the frozen-packaged meat you can buy from supermarkets like Metro, Carrefour, or Abou Zekry- DON’T. Just don’t. Butchers and supermarket meat sections are open and on display, meat factories are not and be assured that I do not trust what I can’t see for myself in Egypt. I learned this the hard way: strapped for time I had Mr. MM stop by the market to buy a package of minced meat (that would be Egyptian for ground beef for all of us Americans out there.) When he got home and I set about cooking it I found, horrifically, a whole moth (and I mean a moth bigger than my thumb) mixed in with the meat. If the moth got in there whole and un-minced, what may have gotten in and minced along with the meat? And what kind of meat was I cooking? Anyways, the whole lot went into the garbage and I won’t touch any packaged-meat with a ten-foot pole now.

A recap: butchers are good if you trust them, supermarket meat departments are clean and refrigerated but much more expensive, and pre-packaged meat is a no-no.

And while we’re on the subject of where to go and where not to go to eat: its tempting to stick to international fast-food chains while overseas but may not actually be the best option. I, myself, ate many times in Egyptian restaurants and even some less-than-sanitary koshari and fuul shops without a problem but managed to get food poisoning from a Burger King hamburger. I’m not the only one, I’ve chatted with at least two other foreigners who had the same thing happen to them with other fast food chains here in Cairo.

The best bet is to have trustworthy contacts who know the ins and outs of the city. I’m going to be posting a list of good places and bad places to eat in Egypt sometime in the future; especially on American restaurants here as I’m slightly obsessed with finding food that tastes like home.


17 responses to “Honey, will you decapitate the chicken for me?

  1. ma shaa Allah… love the read here 😉

  2. Salamu alaikum glad to see that you are settling in nicely.

    Ahhhhhhh meat! When i was in algeria my husband headed to the butcher to get some meat. He chose a nice piece of beef(with almost no fat) and had them make us some ground beef.

    One night, on the way home from visiting roman ruins at the city of tipaza, my husband got a craving for some yummy stir-fry. I said I must have chicken. We stopped at a butcher just across the street from the apartment we were renting and he got me some chicken. Since he knew how much I hate cutting whole chickens he got them to cut it up for me too and lo and behold there was a neck in the bag hahahahahaha

    All of the butchers in Algiers that I encountered in Algeria had all the meat refrigerated. We bought fresh eggs a few times a week and I absolutely loved how delicious the fruits and vegetables tasted.

    Alhamdulillah neither my son nor I got sick on our trip and we both drank the tap water. I wouldn’t reccomend this, but we did it unknowingly. At our place we always drank bottled water. I cooked or we ate at my in-laws house and never ate outside except for the first day when the family picked up rotisserie chicken.

    I love the simplicity of life, but it’s also a pain to do shopping so often.

  3. My husband brings home the chicken head and the feet and you could still feel how alive it was 5 minutes ago!:P I always have a urghhhh-fest when I see them but my Egyptian mother-in-law always reassures me that it makes the soup taste only better, especially for molokiyya’s and mahshi’s.

  4. Well… I just typed a novella, and the darn thing tossed it out because I didn’t include the email…. *kicks wordpress.com*

    Something about having to regurgitate a message… like jokes getting lost in the translation, the second time around isn’t as rambling…

    It was nice to see a post from you! I miss you horribly and am avoiding the instant gratification of picking up the phone and calling!! Worth every penny, absolutely, but just not a good use of $$. Would rather send packages for the money 🙂

    I am looking forward to seeing the shopping experience in person when we are there in January. By the way ask grandma about killing chickens… and by all means, keep the neck for soup!!! Do I need to send a clothesline and a huge cleaving knife in my next package?

    Speaking of packages, there is one on the way to you by the time you read this posting. It will be at the post office tomorrow (July 29). Thanks for sending a text with a request for the package, it is fun to send stuff on a whim, but nice to be able to send things I know you will use.

    Okay.. my previous post had lots more in it, but it has been a long day working on school stuff and my brain is getting sluggish.. and again, trying to recall what and how I had typed it … like a joke in translation….

    I love you, miss you!!!!! Big, big hugs to you and Mr. MM!!!


  5. I just have to say I love your mom’s comment! My mom sends us packages all the time (it was a bit ridiculous in the beginning) and it always makes me feel better.

    Just out of curiosity – how expensive is the beef and eggs there? I can’t stomach the beef here – totally not the angus beef I’m used to from the states. But the lamb – oh my word. I’ve got a deep love for lamb chops! YUMMMO!

  6. Hi Molly’s Mom 🙂

    Its Carrie from AZ! I’m glad to see you on the blog 🙂 I hope all is well with you.

  7. Hi Carrie from AZ!!! It’s good to see you here as well!! All is doing well here. How are you doing and feeling??? Molly reminds me you are due very soon!! Oh, how you must be ready for this!! I am finally getting to chat with her live!!! Wooohooo a Molly fix !!!

    HOw are you surviving in the AZ heat?

  8. Ahh.. the hanging meat w/ flies… I miss that! Honestly I never worried about it, not sure why, but I didn’t. I love how fresh the meat is overseas too. I got my husband buying meat at a little halal store here just to get a ‘taste’ of that… is packaged and everything, but at least it’s more fresh than HEB lol.

  9. Yeah I bet your glad to finally have your Molly fix! lol I’m glad that your doing well! Now we just need to get you on myspace! 🙂

    I am doing well for the most part. I ended up getting the gestational diabetes & now my BP has been going up the past few weeks, so I have been having to go the doc. twice a week.
    The heat was really hard to deal with at first but I’m tolerating it a little better the past few weeks.

    Did I read your post right that you are planning on going to Egypt in Jan?
    Your always welcome back here in AZ (less exciting then Egypt) 😛

    Take care,


  10. Have you gone to Cielo Lindo? We went there one night, I thought it was pretty good. I recommend it.

  11. Molls! Oh Molly I hate the chicken necks too. Alhamdullilah I got one with the head once! Missed ya!

  12. As Salaamu Alaikum Sis:

    Aw, your mom’s comment was sweet!

    Our halal shop here in the US (Pennsylvania) sells the chickens with their heads/necks still attached. You are correct that it is “proof” that the animal was slaughtered in a halal manner.

    Take care dear!

  13. Omg you guys, once from a halal butcher in NJ we got a chicken and inside were like a hundren tiny egg yolks! Freaked me OUT.

  14. inside where in the chicken? icky!!!!!!!!!!

  15. yea in the cavity. YUCK

  16. Molly!
    Salaamu alaikum.
    It’s so exciting to hear about all this! I look forward to your lists of good n’ bad places to eat inshaAllah.
    Yes, inshaAllah we are leaving Sunday for Masr. Pray for us! You still have my contact info, right? I’m pretty sure I have yours, but can you email it to me again, just in case? 😀

  17. There is a lovely place in Mohandeseen that i love when i go to Cairo: Tikka, im sure you know it but just in case… bread and chicken is lovely there and the place recently renovated with nice decoration.

    I know this is a hot month there and pollution, tourists, everything but at least you are with your husband… mine is in Cairo too and i miss him so much.

    Have a nice time there, Molly, i dont know if you are moving there for good with your husband or going back to the states.

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